There is a saying,
“There, but for the grace of God, go I”. When Sp4 Les Paschall
died on December
21, 1967 it could just as easily have been me. His death was a
waste for he died needlessly as a result of someone’s carelessness and
he was on his second tour too. A few years back I found his sister
and gave her a call and she was very much interested in getting the facts
from someone who was there. That part of his death was laid to rest.
I had been in the 281st just over a month and we were working Delta out of a very tiny airstrip by a village south west of Kontum called either Poly Klang or Play Zur Rang ( that's not the correct spelling but that's what they translate to in English). The airstrip was pretty much east to west and about as wide as a two-lane road. All the ships were lined up on the south side of the strip facing east and our tents were set up at the SE end of the strip. The fuel dump was in a small dug out area on the north side of the strip. Because things were so tight, and for safety sake, we were only taking off and landing to the east.
Once the teams were put in, all we had to do was wait and that made for some pretty long days. I found myself bored so I went down to my ship to try to find something interesting to do. The ship was about 10 or so down and about 4 down from the fuel area. When I got to it I found several crew chiefs and gunners sitting around telling stories. I was invited in and took them up on it. Since the seats were taken I sat on the floor between the two pilot seats. Paschall was also on the floor, to my right, with his back up against the side post.
The ship immediately in front of ours had cranked and was waiting for takeoff clearance. Just prior to this a gunship from another company, which was engaged in a hot skirmish and gotten low on fuel landed for fuel, fueled up, and supposedly was told to take off to the east. In their haste to get back to the battle they began a take off to the west instead. There was no room for that with the ship in front of us cranked and both ships meshed blades. Pieces of blades flew all over the place. I immediately noticed white honey comb floating in the air amongst us. Everybody started exiting the ship to my left. Paschall grabbed my hand and pulled me out then laid down next to the skid but would not let go of my hand.
I then looked up and saw that both ships had come apart and were in pieces just mere feet from me. I focused my attention on what was left of our ship, the one that had just run up, and saw that it's transmission had torn lose from it's rear mounts and was now tilted forward. One blade was shattered but the other was still somewhat in tact and both were still turning. I saw the AC get out of his seat but he apparently was in a daze. He started walking forward and was just about to walk into the still turning blades when, at the very last second, the crew chief, badly bloodied from the transmission coming out on top of him, grabbed the AC and pulled him back pointing at the blades. There is no doubt that the AC’s head would have been cut off had it not been for that crew chief's quick thinking.
I then noticed that Paschall wasn't letting go of my hand and looked down at him still lying there next to the skid. I asked him if he was OK and he said nothing. I noticed he had a very strange look on his face. All the other guys had run to the downed ships to help. I asked him again if he was all right and again he said nothing but this time he began to shake a little. I knew something was wrong so I pried his hand loose and unbuttoned his shirt. In his side was a hole the size of a quarter that looked like it went in 6 or 8 inches. There was not a drop of blood in it. A piece of rotor blade had come through the post he was leaning against and had gone clean through him. Special thanks to Will McCollum for the two pictures of the crashed choppers in that accident.
By this time people were running around all over the place so I pulled one of them aside and told them about Paschall and to let the medics know. I then went to the ship behind ours and cranked it for the medivac to Pleiku. A few minutes later the crew for that ship took over and flew all the injured to the main hospital at Pleiku. There was no wasted time at all getting the injured out of there.
Les died about 3 hours later from a lacerated liver. I believe our pilots and the crew member that the transmission came out on came back a day or two later. I never heard of what happened to the pilots that caused the accident. Life can be taken so quickly, its a shame that Paschall’s had to go in such a senseless manner. And I was sitting right next to him.
Les is more than just a number, Les was one of us and we don't forget. Those wishing to visit the "Remembrance" Memorial site the 281st has established for Les please click here.